'Unbubbling' brings much joy

What a difference a day makes! Immediately upon the country moving from Alert Level 3 to 2 on 14 May, it was if the College re-awakened, and chattering and laughter returned to the hallways after a rather sombre and long lockdown of 49 days (33 days in Level 4 and 16 in Level 3).

The College did not shut for the lockdown. Afterall, the College is a home-away-from-home and homes never close!

St Margaret's College, a home-away-from-home — Image by: Dr Charles Tustin

Of the College's 224 Members, 128 Members (57%) remained at the College during the lockdown while the remaining 96 Members elected to return to their families or live elsewhere.

St Margaret’s retained the highest number of Members for the lockdown compared with the other 14 residential colleges at the University of Otago, all of which had less than 100 students stay on.

As a provider of essential services, the College’s usual daily operations continued throughout the lockdown such as provision of food, cleaning, ongoing building maintenance, pastoral care of absent and present Members, and tutorials (online). All staff continued working as normal to ensure as high a level of service as was possible in the circumstances was maintained for our Members.

For public health reasons, the College's 128 lockdown Members operated in 13 bubbles (one for each floor) with staggered use of everything (e.g.dining, common and study rooms, laundry) to minimise contact between the bubbles and adhere to the 2 metre physical distancing requirement. It certainly wasn't an easy time for Members and they have my admiration for their understanding, co-operation, good-naturedness, humour and sacrifice over seven extra-ordinary weeks.

Bubbling of the College for the lockdown — Image by: Dr Charles Tustin

Various social and sport activities (online/individual so no rules were broken) were arranged for Members during the lockdown wherever they were in the country courtesy of the Members' Executive Committee, the College Leaders and the University's Inter-college Competition team. Participation in these activities was high and Members did exceedingly well. Some of the activities which our Members participated in were:

  • Fun Run Competition 
  • Photography Competition
  • Visual Arts Competition
  • Scavenger Hunts - online
  • Riddle Competition
  • Clues Race Challenge
  • Tik Tok Challenge
  • Stairs Challenge

In the architectural photography competition, Sarai Price was awarded third place for her colourful and beautifully composed photo of the University's Library Building:

Library Building, University of Otago — Image by: Sarai Price

And Remin Reji Mathew (Executive President) received an honourable mention for this photo of Member Ashish Yadav's eye in the macro category of the photography competition:

Ashish Yadav's eye — Image by: Remin Reji Mathew

Many Members were very keen to return to the College as soon as they could after travel restrictions were lifted for Level 2 on 14 May. Indeed, within the first ten days of Level 2, 40 Members will be back at the College already.

Level 2 is like a breath of fresh air. The bubbles are gone, friends are being re-united, Members may dine at a time of their own choosing and with whom they wish, the sombre Level 3 and 4 mood has lifted, and there's plenty of friendly chatter and laughter around the College.

Although life is much more pleasant for everyone in the 'unbubbled' Level 2, it’s not quite back to pre-Covid-19 normality. While we have been successful in keeping Covid-19 away from the College, it’s important for us to remain vigilant so that the sacrifices of the last few months were not for nothing. To assist with this, the College is operating with various measures in place as recommended by the authorities for a controlled environment such as the College. However, these measures are fairly minimal compared with the previous 49 days, and much more pleasant and livable.

I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all College Members for their resilience, hard work and commitment during these challenging times. Well done!

(Story by the Master, Dr Charles Tustin)

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Posted: Tuesday May 19, 2020